Analyzing the State of the WWE vs. AEW Wrestling War and What's Next

Philip LindseySeptember 21, 2022

Analyzing the State of the WWE vs. AEW Wrestling War and What's Next

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    Photo credit: WWE.com

    There hasn’t been a single dull moment in professional wrestling in 2022. We’ve been bombarded with a new major headline or dramatic turn of events every other week.

    However, the ongoing tug of war between WWE and All Elite Wrestling is still the most engaging topic online.

    Yes, WWE remains the industry leader, and no competitor could conceivably topple such a massive juggernaut. Still, AEW presents the company with its first real opposition since WCW closed its doors in 2001.

    As a result, fans have drawn their lines in the sand in this generation’s wrestling war. No matter what side you fall on, it’s hard to deny pro wrestling is more interesting than it has been in a long time. Parity and active competition have been great for the industry on the whole.

    To that end, there is an immense variety of entertaining content more readily available than ever before. There’s almost an overabundance of quality wrestling, but there’s something for everyone.

    For that reason, hardcore fans don’t have to pick fights with each other or wave the flag for either side. Viewers are so privileged right now that it seems like such a waste of time to debate over preferences.

    If you’re looking for an article that assigns a clear winner at the moment, you’ve come to the wrong place. Instead, let’s look at the state of both WWE and AEW and assess what the next year could look like.

WWE’s Resurgence With Triple H at the Helm

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    Surely, no one expected to see Vince McMahon retire this year. The former chairman and CEO of WWE stepped down from all active duties in July, leaving behind an impeccable but complicated legacy.

    What does wrestling even look like without the most recognizable promoter in the world? It’s hard to fathom for most of us because he has been around for our entire viewing history.

    Surprisingly, things are looking up for WWE in his absence. Triple H has successfully revitalized the product by reintroducing some of his ideas from NXT. Even more, the new head of creative and chief content officer got rid of some of McMahon’s antiquated storytelling techniques and naming conventions.

    As a result, WWE’s programming has been much better lately. Its flagship series is easier to watch, and the last two pay-per-views were tremendous. SummerSlam was a refreshing change of pace after a few duds, and Clash at the Castle was arguably the company’s best showing of the year.

    The morale backstage even seems up after the following year when the company made drastic cuts again. Many of the Superstars appear excited about what they’re doing now and it’s visible on-air.

AEW’s Tumultuous Year

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    Meanwhile, AEW has had a rocky but ultimately successful year. The three-year-old company is still one of the fastest-growing promotions in the history of the business, but it had its share of growing pains in 2022.

    AEW started the year with controversy as Big Swole’s exit and subsequent criticism of her time there led to Tony Khan’s first real faux pas. Ever since, some of the founder and co-owner’s responses and decision-making skills have made him the target of criticism online.

    The company also took a significant hit as one of its founding members, Cody Rhodes, jumped ship and returned to WWE. It was a big shift for AEW, which presents itself as an alternative to its long-standing competitor. For the first time since its inception, it didn’t look like a perfect destination compared to its highly-scrutinized predecessor.

    Even worse, growing dysfunction in the locker room started to spill over onto its programming. This came to a head as CM Punk publicly aired his grievances in the All Out media scrum, which led to an altercation with The Elite.

    Khan’s biggest acquisition to date has been largely beneficial for AEW on the business side, but this situation has caused many to question whether Punk is worth the trouble. It’s unclear if he will continue to be a key player in 2023.

    The messy backstage drama and the loss of some of its biggest stars are concerning, but AEW soldiered on, boasting some of its highest attendance numbers at consecutive PPVs.

    The negative press hasn’t harmed Dynamite’s rating for the past few weeks heading into Grand Slam this weekend, either. In fact, viewership has been up after a rough stretch over the summer.

    It’s also hard to discount victories like the highly anticipated partnership with New Japan Pro-Wrestling.

High-Profile Returns

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    This year has been one of pivotal returns. So much so, that it’s easy to forget “Stone Cold” Steve Austin wrestled in a match for the first time in over 19 years at WrestleMania 38.

    Still, Cody Rhodes' surprise comeback to WWE will go down as one of the highlights of 2022. It was the first of such game-changing moments for the company. Bayley’s return at SummerSlam also offered the Raw women’s division a much-needed boost.

    Dakota Kai also debuted alongside her at The Biggest Party of the Summer. The former NXT star’s appearance was the first sign that Triple H was in contact with Superstars who were released or disillusioned with WWE.

    The new executive vice president of talent relations went on to rehire Hit Row, Dexter Lumis, Karrion Kross, Scarlett, Johnny Gargano and Braun Strowman. Rumor has it that Bray Wyatt, Sasha Banks, and Naomi may not be far behind.

    Elsewhere, Kenny Omega returned on the Aug. 17 episode of Dynamite after an eight-month hiatus. The Best Bout Machine will be vital to AEW, but MJF has already stepped up and become a great brand ambassador since his reemergence at All Out.

    It’s safe to assume these high-profile returns will shape the trajectory of both companies for the remainder of the year. For example, it will be interesting to see how Adam Cole will come into play as he prepares to return to AEW soon.

The Emergence of New Stars

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    One of AEW’s strengths this year has been its ability to build new stars. That’s so important to the future of the company. We expect to see more new names develop heading into 2023.

    Wheeler Yuta was one of the foremost success stories early on, but Daniel Garcia has flourished as well. His current storyline with Chris Jericho and Bryan Danielson has been incredibly layered and compelling. It’s a fantastic example of how to use established stars to enhance the next up-and-comers.

    Jamie Hayter is also quickly becoming a fan favorite due to her work with Britt Baker. The 27-year-old garnered a noticeably loud reaction during the interim AEW Women's World Championship match at All Out.

    Hook, Danhausen, Ricky Starks, Powerhouse Hobbs and Wardlow are also names who stand out. And The Acclaimed have become two of the most popular homegrown stars on the roster.

    Although AEW arguably has a better crop young of talent, WWE has also produced some promising new acts. Gunther, Solo Sikoa and Raquel Rodriguez are the first glimpses of the new approach to NXT call-ups.

    The WWE draft seems set to take place next spring. It could determine where we see other NXT 2.0 standouts like Toxic Attraction, Carmelo Hayes, Santos Escobar or Bron Breakker.

What's Next

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    While AEW had more momentum last year, WWE is currently in a much better spot. The globally recognized corporation has navigated through its fair share of controversy this year, but t came out the other side with the most positive buzz in some time.

    The first WrestleMania season with Triple H in control will be a big test, but there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic. The weekly programming is more interesting, and the plans for Survivor Series are a positive sign.

    That doesn’t exactly spell gloom and doom for AEW, but it’s a welcome return to form. Time will tell if the new regime can continue this pace. There have been some missteps here and there, but the personnel change has been productive.

    It’s also time to start grooming the next top guy and figure out how to handle the end of Roman Reigns’ tenure as the undisputed WWE champion. He is already working a lighter schedule and SmackDown struggles without him. The blue band still garners consistent numbers, but the creative team can’t avoid this for much longer.

    Meanwhile, AEW has a lot to prove heading into WWE’s territory, New York, to host Grand Slam this Wednesday. The colossal event could silence detractors, but the fallout of the Punk debacle still looms.

    His fate and The Elite’s next move are crucial, but Khan has continued to deliver with his back against the wall. The next world champion will have a heavy burden to shoulder, but the company has an excellent option in Danielson. MJF is also waiting in the wings.

    Both WWE and AEW seem primed to end this eventful year with extreme highs and lows. Still, the industry is thriving with plenty of talking points to digest in the next few months. Neither of these companies is trending downward, and that’s great for everyone.

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